The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Canada Lily (Meadow Lily; Wild Yellow Lily)


Scientific Name
Lilium canadense L.


Plant Family
Lily (Liliaceae)

Garden Location


Prime Season
Early Summer Flowering



Canada Lily is an erect native perennial lily with a single green, usually smooth, stem from 1 to 4 plus feet high. The stem is unbranched below the inflorescence.

The leaves are in 6 to 10 whorls on the stem, usually 3 to 12 leaves per whorl. They are held horizontal or slightly ascending with drooping tips. Leaves are about 6x longer than wide, up to 6 inches long, narrowly elliptic in shape, with a pointed tip and smooth non-wavy margins. The underside is frequently rough to the touch.

The inflorescence is a upright spike (a raceme) of 1 to 17 stalked flowers atop the main stem.

The flowers are hanging downward (pendant), not fragrant, with the flower stalks longest at the base of the raceme creating a pyramid shape when there are many flowers. The perianth of the flower is a bell shape with 3 sepals and 3 petals that look the same (commonly called 'tepals') and as the flower opens the tips flare outward curving backward a little, but not fully recurved like the Turk's-cap lilies also found in the Garden. The outside color is a yellow and frequently they is a bit of reddish tint at the tips of the tepals. They may also have some maroon spotting. There are 6 stamens, slightly exserted beyond the tepals with dull magenta colored anthers up to 1/2 inch long. The filaments of the stamens are quite parallel to the single style and barely spreading at the anthers. Both style and stamen filaments are the same color as the tepals.

Seed: Fertile flowers produce a 3-valved (chambered) seed capsule that is up to 2x as long as wide, which contains in each chamber, numerous small flattened seeds. These are wind dispersed when the capsule opens. Ruby Throated Hummingbirds have been observed as the prime pollinators of Canada Lily.


Habitat: Canada Lily is found in moist woods, wet meadows, stream sides, marshes, and open areas such as roadsides where there is moisture. It is found in the Upland Garden set back but visible from Prairie Path. Full sun is best for flowering. It grows from a yellowish rhizomatous flattened bulb than forms scales annually at the end of a creeping stolon. The creeping stolons allow vegetative reproduction. Seeds will germinate the following spring but growth the first year is entirely below ground. Flower coloration can vary from locale to locale as can the length of the leaves which can be from 2 to 10 x longer than wide.

Varieties: Over the years several botanists have defined several varieties based on flower color, leaf size, etc., particularly var. editorum and var. rubrum. Flora of North America (Ref. #W7) states "Field observations do not strongly support infraspecific splitting of Lilium canadense."

Names: The genus Lilium is derived from the Greek word 'lirion' for lily. The species name, canadense, means 'of Canada'. The accepted author name of the plant classification - 'L.', refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy.

Comparisons: L. canadense is distinguished from the Turk's-cap Lilies, L. superbum and L. michiganense where the tepals reflex completely upward and the stamens and style extend well beyond the tepals. Comparison drawing below.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

Canada Lily Canada Lily

Above: Examples of the pendant flower. The tepals spread outward at the tips, but do not reflex fully backward. Stamens and style are exserted with the magenta color of the anthers contrasting with the yellow of the tepals.

Below: This example shows how the pyramid shape of the inflorescence is created by the lowest flowers having the longest stalks.

Canada Lily

Below: Comparison drawing of Lilium Canadense (1st drawing) and Lilium Superbum (2nd drawing. Both drawings from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.

drawing Canada Lily Turks cap lily drawing

Below: This specimen was photographed on July 6, 2017.

Full Plant


Notes: Canada Lily is not indigenous to the Garden. Eloise Butler's records show that she first introduced this plant by planting a dozen bulbs on Oct. 22, 1910 obtained from Northrup King (a seed and plant provider). On Oct. 7, 1912 she planted 12 from Gillett's Nursery in Southwick MA and 7 more on Oct. 11, 1914 from Strands' Nursery at Taylor's Falls, MN, then 6 more in April 1917 from Horsford's in Charlotte Vermont. In Oct. 1920 she got 6 more each from Gillett's and Hosford's. Martha Crone planted more in 1933 when she assumed the position of Temporary Curator, 14 more in 1945, source not mentioned, and added more in '46, '52 and '55. It is not native to Minnesota but is a native of eastern Canada and the eastern United States.

Only two lily species are native to Minnesota: L. michiganense, Michigan Lily; and L. philadelphicum, Wood Lily. L. canadense was the first North American lily to be taken back to Europe. The French had it around 1620, Linnaeus named it in 1753.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.